NES fans have 678 licensed games to collect. Intellivision collectors have The 125. But if you’re an Atari 2600 collector, things are a bit more nebulous. There are, of course, the first-party games Atari itself released. Then there are the big-name third-party releases. Activision, Imagic, Parker Bros. etc. Plus smaller developers that released a handful of games before vanishing into the either. Mythicon, Telesys, American Videogame, etc. On top of all that, you’ve got outfits like Froggo and Zellers, purveyors of re-released games of dubious authenticity, some of which are the only NTSC versions of games that originated in PAL territories. Where do those games fall on the 2600 checklist?
In those early wild west days of home video games there wasn’t much preventing any suitably motivated business from developing and selling an Atari 2600 game. One such business was Sparrow Records, a Christian music label founded in 1976. Sparrow managed to release one game, The Music Machine, a competent Kaboom clone based on an album by the group Candle. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, there were other games in the works, but none were released before Sparrow abandoned the video game business.
Those games remained lost to time until 2015, when Paul Walters posted to a thread on the AtariAge forums revealing that while working for Enter-Tech Ltd. in the early 80’s he had been one of the programmers working on the unreleased Sparrow games, that one of those games, Arkyology, was complete, and that he had in his possession a ROM image of the game. Following three years of behind the scenes efforts to release the game on cartridge, Walters released the ROM to the public yesterday.
In Arkyology you control Noah, tasked with feeding the animals on board the ark. The game is divided into days and each day is divided into two parts. The first part has Noah opening the animals’ pens. In the second part he feeds the animals. After each day a brief cut scene of Noah snoring in his bed plays before the next day begins.
The game screen is split into three levels connected by ladders. Each level has four pens and each pen holds a hungry animal. During the first phase, latches or keys appear on screen one at a time in random order. When Noah touches one, that pen opens. Once all of the pens are open, play moves to the next phase. Here an animal will appear in each pen in random order. Once Noah feeds an animal, that pen closes. When all of the animals have been fed, the next day begins and the cycle repeats.
Obstacles come in the form of a spidery thing that moves back and forth across the top of the screen dropping projectiles, birds and some sort of small blob that traverse the decks and an alligator that appears in later levels that stays on one deck and tracks Noah’s movements.
Arkyology is a very good game. The gameplay is fun and challenging with a Fast Eddie vibe to it. The graphics are very good. The screen has an Activision look to it, though maybe not quite to that high level of quality. The animals that appear in the pens look like animals. Not always specific animals, but definitely animals. The sound effects are nothing special, but while they don’t add anything to the game, they don’t detract from it either. One flaw with the game, though, is screen jitter when played in Stella. Sometimes the display is rock-solid, other times it jumps at an almost nauseating rate. Just tell yourself the ark is encountering choppy waters and power through it. This is a game you’ll definitely be spending a lot of time with.
To read more about Arkyology and download the ROM to try for yourself, visit the thread over at AtariAge.